On New Year's Day 1945, a stocky officer reported to the headquarters of the Seventh U.S. Army's Strategic Services Section. While Marines were no common sight in eastern France, the Battle of the Bulge was still echoing through the Ardennes, and Second Lieutenant Peter Viertel's arrival occasioned less comment than normal.
"Man, You Must Be Lost or Something"
The Seventh Army SSS was only one of several such units attached to major commands, but it was surely the most successful. "Largely ineffectual detachments served with the Third and Ninth Armies. The First Army had thrown its detachment out shortly after D-Day . . . Only the OSS unit attached to the Seventh enjoyed a genuine standing in the field, a reputation won largely through meticulous planning and inventory of Nazi defenses in advance of the invasion of southern Francs."1 Viertel would no nothing to tarnish that lustre.
Boss of the SI section was Henry Hyde, an acid-tongued civilian master of the double-entendre. Viertel became one of his star pupils. Only a few months past his twenty-fourth birthday, Peter Viertel had nonetheless already seen plenty of life. Born in Dresden, Germany, he had come to America as a boy and grew up in the babylonian Hollywood of the 1903s, where his father worked as a motion picture director.
Viertel was himself a talented writer. Before he could vote,
Viertel had authored the screenplays for Alfred Hitchock's "Saboteur" and Warner Brothers' "The Hard Way." His short stories appeared in national magazines, and he had a full-length novel to his publishing credit. Viertel's intelligence was matched by good looks, a pleasant personality, and a devastating tennis backhand. The first two qualities would be of direct assistance during his OSS service.2
In July 1942, Peter viertel enlisted in the Marine Corps. Of this decision, Frank Morely, his publisher at Harcourt-Brace, would later write:. . . from the beginning he had an unswerving devotion toward the Marines. He had, I believe, easier opportunities for obtaining a commission elsewhere, but he far preferred to enlist as a Private in the Corps. In that, and in every other way, he has always shown the proper spirit.3
A year went by, during which Viertel's time was largely confined to pounding a typewriter in San Diego. Not wanting to spend the entire war as a "Remington Raider," Viertel applied for Officer Candidate School. He was screened, accepted, and commissioned a Second Lieutenant in August 1944. OSS was desperately searching for German-speaking recruits. Viertel fitted that key requirement.
Alexander Patch, Commanding General of the Seventh Army, was pushing Hyde's section for detailed agent reports. But the Frenchmen who had proved so valuable in their own country were totally unsuitable for missions beyond the rapidly approaching Rhine. Hyde needed native Germans who knew not only the language,
but also the day-to-day inner workings of life under the Nazi regime. One source of such men was immediately apparent. But there was a significant catch: all were former members of Hitler's armed forces.
Using POWs as agents was then expressly forbidden by SHAEF,and the prohibition against recruiting German soldiers had been rigorously respected by the British. Canvassing for potential spies among POWs was questionable as well under the Geneva Convention.
Patch was nothing if not practical. He told Hyde to go ahead and use the prisoners. Hyde reminded him of the SHAEF prohibition. Patch asked who was the key to evading this obstacle. "General Donovan," Hyde informed him.
Hyde flew to London to meet Donovan and to perform the kind of Jesuitry which was second nature to him. Before his departure, Patch had said, restraining a wink, that if Hyde could not follow orders, then he was finished with the Seventh Army. General Donovan conveniently agreed that Hyde had no other choice but to follow his field commander's orders; therefore, Donovan's hands were clean. The SHAEF prohibition was thus quietly sidestepped. On his return, Hyde informed his people that their objective now lay across the Rhine. Recruiting began immediately.4
Hyde organized his men and outlined their mission. One of three officers chosen to evaluate potential agents was Peter Viertel. Another was newly arrived Marine First Lieutenant Charles A. (Carl) Muecke, a William and Mary Phi Beta Kappa of German descent.5 To round out the group, Hyde picked the unit's paymaster, Army Lieutenant Peter Sichel, a British-educated German Jew who was heir to the famous Sichel wine importing empire.
Seventh Army G-2 set about identifying likely prospects. Once given a few leads, Viertel, Sichel, and Muecke took over. Potential recruits were first assigned to routine working parties. Then each
man was casually detailed to a job which took him to an area out of sight and sound of the others. Once isolated, the "target" was picked up by a member of the assessment team and individually grilled. If a man passed this initial interview, he was observed for a few days, and then routed to Hyde for the final "hard sell." Those found completely suitable and appropriately motivated were blindfolded and taken to a safehouse for indoctrination, training, and assimilation of a cover story.
Lieutenant Muecke also performed the vital function of acquiring genuine documents for use by agents inside the Reich. Those which could be so had were collected from other POWs.
Muecke had once gone into a cage to collect documents. He stood on a jeep before ten thousand prisoners and spoke to them through a loudspeaker. He told the prisoners to turn in their leave papers, hospital passes, travel permits, and ration coupons. One soldiers objected. "Under the Geneva Convention we don't have to give these things to you." A dozen others leaped to their feet and shouted the man down. "Be quiet. Can't you seen an officer is speaking?"6
Teutonic respect for authority was thus one of OSS's most valuable recruiting aids.
The Geneva Convention was frequently stretched, if not downright ignored. Those POWs who were recruited simply disappeared from camp rosters. Since there were several hundred thousand German prisoners, the disappearance of a man here and there could be, and was, laid to administrative oversight and his physical absence to routine transfer.
Initially, Hyde attempted to infiltrate his agents in the same manner utilized in France, namely through the front lines on foot or by jeep. But the U.S. Army's combat soldiers were often little more cooperative than was the enemy. Ground troops frequently refused to participate in what they viewed as an insane scheme to send Nazis home to Hitler with American assistance. After taking heavy casualties, Viertel proposed that further infiltrations be performed by short-range paradrop. This idea resulted in a series of highly successful operations which were euphemistically dubbed "tourist missions." Unfortunately for the early "tourists," there was little time for parachute training. Some made their first jump directly into clandestine combat.
The "tour" consisted of an agent moving along a predetermined route inside Germany. Specific instructions on what to look for and remember were hammered into the recruit. The German proclivity for methodical attention to detail made this task easier. Agents were as well prepared as possible. Instead of a mere "dogtag," each was equipped with a complete and frequently totally authentic batch of papers, passes, forms, and the like. Documents which could not be gleaned from Muecke's periodic sweeps through the camps were manufactured. Initially, most came from OSS's magnificent London forging center. Later, a rubber stamp factory and printing firm in Strasbourg were doing top quality work as well. "An ex-German clerk assisted in the draftsmanship of Soldebuecher, Wehrpassen, etc., and a former Austrian of the Gebirgs-Jaeger Regiment advised on
travel procedures and executed endorsements."7
During January and February 1945, twenty of the thirty-one agents who were dropped by parachute successfully completed their assignments and returned through the Seventh Army's lines. During the same period, foot-bound infiltration attempts suffered more than 60% casualties.
Women offered even greater potential than male POWs. Even if they spoke German with a slight accent, their presence within the Reich could be laid to all sorts of exigencies of war. Viertel came up with three prize recruits in particular: Maria, Emily, and Ada.
Maria came from the rough mining area south of Strasbourg in the Alsace. Viertel found her cooling her heels in a detention camp for Nazi collaborators. During the previous three years, Maria had been the loving mistress of a local Gestapo officer. Now, with the outcome of the war a foregone conclusion, she wanted to perform some act which would wipe away the stain of her error, and put her back in the good graces of her neighbors.
A cover story was concocted which portrayed Maria as a German Army nurse. Meanwhile, she completed a very basic parachute training course and learned how to spot information of military significance. Maria did not completely change her ways however, She was accustomed to being around soldiers and never claimed to possess the highest of moral standards. While at the SSS training areas, she ingratiated herself to agent and ally alike an a random and physical fashion.
On 3 February 1945, Maria was transferred to the airfield at Lyon to await the plane which would drop her near Stuttgart.
Just before takeoff, Maria informed Peter Viertel that she had a novel problem. She was, the stunned Marine learned, pregnant. Why now? Why had she waited to so long to tell him? Maria made it clear that she had no intention of frustrating the mission. But she wanted to strike a bargain. She expected to be gone less than two weeks. AFter she had thus performed her part of the agreement,she wanted the Americans to arrange an abortion.8
VIertel was uncertain of his options, but finally decided to go ahead. Maria was dropped as planned; carried out her mission brilliantly; and was subsequently overrun by advancing American units. The OSS kept its side of the deal. Lieutenant Sichel took Maria to the local French hospital and described her as a modern day Joan of Arc who had given "everything but her life" for the resistance. There were no problems with the doctor.
Emily and Ada did not work out as well. Ada was an Italian acrobat. To her, parachuting was child's play. She hated the Germans and wanted nothing more than to hurt them. But despite five separate flights over the crumbling Fatherland, she was never able to match-up with a navigator who could locate the proper drop zone.
Emily was recommended by French intelligence. She too proved an apt pupil and was anxious to operate behind German lines. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. After a successful drop,
Emily removed the crystals from her radio and replaced them with a set provided by the Deuxieme Bureau. Thereafter, she operated solely for France.
Meanwhile, other Marines were serving with OSS field army detachments. Captain John Hamilton (hayden) had the ill-fortune to be assigned to the First Army. From the beginning, the G-2 had made it plain that he wanted as little to do with Donovan's special warriors as possible. After August 1944, there was only a token OSS force attached to the command, and when Hayden arrived in early January 1945, the situation was unimproved.
The jeep was driven by a man who was far form home. "Captain," he said, "if you don't object to the question, haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
"Not that I can recall," said the officer. It was cold, colder than Maine. Maybe,he thought, when I get near combat my circulation slows down. "Captain, if you don't object to the question, is that there a German soldier suit you got on?"
"I'm a Marine."
The driver whistled, "A United States Marine? Man, you must be lost or something."9
Hayden spent the remainder of the war with the First Army. It was a far cry from his experiences in the Adriatic. There was little for the OSS detachment to do, and eventually he found a job working with the political section of the G02. Hayden's OSS superior was 24-year-old blueblood, Stuyvesant Wainwright II, a wealthy conservative who later served two terms in Congress. Wainwright delighted in taunting Hayden about his passionate support for Tito
and his avowedly left-wing politics. Hayden responded with unidigital salutations and saluted with the Communist clenched fist.
The Third Army also had its Marine: Second Lieutenant John Wallendahl Mowinckel, USMCR. Mowinckel was born in Genoa, Italy in July 1920. His father, John A. Mowinckel, was head of European operations for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. The Mowinckel's were a distinguished Norwegian family--one of young John's uncles had been Prime Minister--and it showed in the Lieutenant's features. Tall, blond, and fair-skinned, he spoke six languages: Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Spanish and English.10
Mowinckel was an excellent skier and ice hockey player. Educated in Switzerland and at St. Paul's in Concord, New Hampshire, he entered Princeton in 1939 as a modern languages major. While at Old Nassau, Mowinckel joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a Private. Commissioned in October4 1943, he graduated from the 38th Reserve Officer Class and was detailed to OSS for duty.
Following the normal cloak and dagger training,Mowinckel was shipped off to England, where he joined the Third Army's OSS detachment. During the drive through France, he won the Bronze Star and Croix de Guerre for fighting his way out of a German ambush while on an agent drop fifteen kilometers beyond the front.11
As has already been noted, the Third Army detachment did not shine so brightly as did that of the Seventh. By Lieutenant Mowinckel could not be blamed for the lackluster record. In early May 1945,
he won the Silver Star less than a week before hostilities ceased. The Third Army was then sweeping southeast through Austria toward the Red Army forces from the opposite direction.
On 3 May 1945, Lieutenant Mowinckel courageously volunteered to infiltrate through enemy lines to establish contact with Soviet forces thought to be in the vicinity of Perg, Austria. Accompanied by two intelligence agents, he fearlessly proceeded far beyond the front. Although halted and interrogated by German SS personnel, Lieutenant Mowinckel succeeded in talking his way out and proceeded with his vital mission.12
The activities of men like Viertel, Hayden, Mowinckel, and Muecke all resulted in the intelligence penetration of Hitler's Reich. But in general, the rewards were less dramatic than those achieved by the long-range missions dropped from London.
An essential element of all successful intelligence collection operations is the ability to transmit information to those who can analyze and distribute it. "As the final battle against Germany began, the Reich presented problem which largely nullified all previous agent communications techniques. OSS solved these through the development and use of a device known as Joan-Eleanor (J-E)."13
Joan-Eleanor was the codename for a remarkably compact two-way radio. Operating on a line-of-sight basis at very high frequency, the J-E's signal was virtually impossible to detect through the normal direction finding procedures. The set itself was less than six inches long and weighted only four pounds. Since it was battery powered, there was no requirement for external electricity.
J-E did have one important drawback, and that was range.
Since the system was developed to allow agents to operate amid the mainstream of German civilian life--far from the front--a relay was necessary. The answer to this was a small group of Mosquito bombers. The Mosquito could speed across the German sky at 30,000 feet. In its reconfigured tail section was the J-E operator who spoke to the agent on the ground. Conversation was in plain language, and all transmissions were recorded. This procedure allowed the same amount of information to be passed in a short message that had previously required up to an hour.
Joan-Eleanor was the brainchild of Navy Reserve Lieutenant Commander Stephen H. Simpson, Jr., a thirty-seven-year-old electrical engineer. "Before the war, Simpson had been an RCA scientist with a long interest in radio-transmission technology dating back to 1928. As a young man, Simpson worked on a pioneer RCA project to rebroadcast the Christmas tolling of Big Ben via shortwave from London to New York's radio station WJZ. Sixteen years later, Simpson found himself assigned to OSS London. still probing the potentialities of radio wave propagation."14
While J-E was Simpson's idea, the man who changed concept to capability was DeWitt Goddard, another former RCA scientist. Simpson had Goddard yanked from his job at Riverhead Labs in New York, commissioned in the Navy, and flown immediately to England. The new officer was put into the field with such speed that he did not even own a uniform.
Once the OSS communicators* were satisfied with Joan-Eleanor's potential,l the system was field tested by an agent parachuted into Holland. Soon the results were in -- J-E was cleared for use inside Germany. The men chosen for the first missions deep into the Reich were almost exclusively anti-Nazi expatriates. Most of them were former trade unionists with strong Socialist or Communist political backgrounds.
Then yet another problem loomed. The Mosquito, while extremely fast, was limited in range. The planes had been stripped of every nonessential item to accommodate the added weight of the J-3 operator (including the IFF gear). Adding agents and jumpmasters would diminish he combat radius of the aircraft still more. Additionally, the Mosquito was a British airplane with no set logistical support system in the American Army Air Corps.
OSS wanted a plane which could fly at roughly the same speed and altitude as the Mosquito, but had the "legs" necessary to carry agents as far east as Berlin. The result was utilization of the new Douglas A-26, a twin-engine attack bomber which could outrun many of the Luftwaffe's night fighters and possessed a 1400 mile range. Two of these aircraft were wheedled from the Air Corps. The A-26 would thus carry the agent and the Mosquito the J-E equipment and operator.
All seemed ready, then yet another hitch developed. The stalling
*It is worthy of note that one of OSS's most important communications officers was Marine Reserve Major Frederick Willis. Willis was in his late 40's when he was commissioned to act as Executive Officer for the Communications Branch. A World War I Army combat veteran, he was the only Marine Corps Reserve Officer appointed directly to Field rank for duty with OSS.
speed of the A-26 was more than 150 knots. OSS was used to dropping agents at much more leisurely paces. To ensure that the "26" could safely disgorge its human cargo, Simpson requested a series of test jumps. The results gave immediate cause for concern.
The first two dummies dropped from "the hole" splattered off the bulbous underside turret. Longer static lines were rigged, and the tests continued. After a few more tries, the dummies began to clear. Now human jumpers were required. The first man to successfully exit was Marine Gunnery Sergeant Larry Elder, a member of the Special Force parachute training detachment.15 Right behind him was Sergeant George Usher of the RAF. Joan-Eleanor and the A-26 were alerted for a visit to the German capital.
In addition to the trade union men, OSS had recruited a number of Belgian agents. These were primarily targeted against the elusive National Redoubt. Soon after his return from GERMINAL, Captain William Grell was placed in charge of handling these operations. As head of the OSS Belgian desk, Grell brought not only operational experience of his own, but also his credentials as a native.
Grell's brother, Leon, was also involved in this work. Leon Grell became a Marine officer in much the same way that DeWitt Goddard had "joined" the Navy. Without benefit of any formal Marine Corps training or even American citizenship, Leon Grell was assigned the task of preparing agents for infiltrating the Bavarian mountains. His duty title was "conducting officer."
Leon would meet the agents at a nondescript location in London. He would check their clothing (provided by a highly competent
OSS "custom tailoring" service) and escort them to RAF Harrington. There, another security check was conducted to ensure that no shred of evidence existed which could link the agent to England. When Grell was satisfied, a second security man took over and did the entire thing yet a third time. All personal papers and valuables were collected and held for the agent's return. Then the false identification items were handed out.
Grell went over their papers, ID cards, ration card, census card, birth certificate. He opened the suitcase which he had brought from London and began distributing items. "Wear this money belt around your waist. Keep your big money in it. Remember, you're a conscript laborer, live like one." Grell gave each man a set of pills. The blue pill was benzedrine sulfate to overcome fatigue. The white pills were knockout drops which would put someone out for six hours. The third was the cyanide-laden "L" pill. THe capsule was encased in rubber. To kill himself, the agent would have to bite into it. The rubber casing would otherwise allow the pill to be swallowed harmlessly.16
Then Grell would issue each man a pistol and his jumping coveralls. The weapons were of U.S. Manufacture and were supposed to be buried along with the jumpsuit. This obvious precaution was usually ignored because there is something intrinsically comforting about having a Smith and Wesson in one's pocket. Agent jumpsuits were specially fabricated models with a mustard and green camouflage pattern. A long zipper ran from neck to crotch, allowing the agent to get out quickly after hitting the ground. With these preliminaries accomplished, the agent would don his helmet and chute, receive a final safety check, and board the A-26.
Deep drops were astonishingly successful. OSS parachuted more than two hundred agents into the Third Reich, and nearly all of the
long-range missions were from Harrington. But there were casualties. One was Sergeant Fred Brunner, the member of Ortiz' ill-fated UNION II who had escaped by swimming the Isere under fire.
Brunner had been awarded the Silver STar for his work in France. When the mission was withdrawn, he continued to serve with OSS in England. In mid-March 1945, Brunner was detailed to act as jumpmaster for the CHISEL mission, a long-range penetration to Hamm, Germany.
CHISEL revolved around a Communist coal miner turned intellectual named Karl Macht. The drop date was set for 19 March. Lieutenant Commander Simpson was having trouble with the Air Corps, but his difficulties appeared to be waning.* Or so it seemed until he learned that the plane scheduled to fly CHISEL was badly in need of repair and carried a faulty radio.
Usually OSS was placed in the position of asking the Air Corps to fly deep missions, but on this occasion the roles were reversed. Simpson wanted the flight scrubbed, but the Air Corps opted to "get it over with." The aircraft was A-26 #524.. This plane had carried out the OSS HAMMER mission to Berlin some days earlier. Now it was sitting on the tarmac at Harrington with both engines torn down. Additionally, a storm was brewing and weather all the way to the target was forecast to be marginal.
The crew assigned to fly CHISEL had never worked together.
*The problems with the Air Corps were largely those of coordination. The 492nd Bomb Group had thought it would be given a chance to fly regular bombing sorties after it had finished supporting the maquis in France. Agent dropping was both dangerous and unglamorous.
Lieutenant Emmel, the pilot, was not fully "checked-out" in the A-26. Nevertheless, a desk-bound colonel decreed that the mission would go.
At 2230 on the night of 19 March 1945, the glossy black bomber roared into the rainy sky and turned east. Its motors quickly droned into the blackness, and in a few moments, all that was left was the sweep of the wind and the splattering of rain drops on the oil-soaked parking stands. There were four crew members and the agent aboard. None was ever hear from again.17
Peter Viertel returned to writing after the war. Today he is married to screen star Deborah Kerr and lives in Klosters, Switzerland.18 Carl Muecke returned to the United States and worked as a newspaper reported in Arizona while studying the law. He now sits on the bench of the U.S. Circuit Court in Phoenix.19 John Mowinckel also followed the journalistic profession as a reporter and economic analyst U.S. News and World Report. He later joined the U.S. Information Agency and served at various posts in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. From 1971-75, Mowinckel was Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in vienna. Today he lives in Paris and is associated with the International Energy Agency.20 Sterling Hayden resigned his Marine commission in 1947, stating that his wartime experiences had taught him that land combat was not his metier. Hayden wrote the Commandant that in any future conflict he would prefer to sere strictly at sea as a Coast Guard or Navy
officer.21 No longer active in motion pictures, Hayden lives on Cape Cod and devotes his time to writing. William Grell remained in the Marine Corps Reserve and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the early 1960's. He too returned to his civilian occupation of hotel manager and lived for many years in the Belgian Congo. Now eighty years old, he has settled in New England.
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